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Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is no longer an afterthought

Considered a throw-in as part of the 2008 trade that brought his brother Pau to Lakers, Marc Gasol has become an elite center, leading Memphis' deep playoff run.

May 23, 2013|By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
  • Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol reacts to a call in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 2 of the Western Conference final.
Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol reacts to a call in the second half against… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — He was the younger brother, a throw-in from the Pau Gasol trade, his name often appearing at the end of sentences describing what the Memphis Grizzlies received in exchange for their best player.

The Grizzlies got a pair of Lakers in Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton . . . and two first-round draft picks . . . and, oh, by the way, Marc Gasol.

Now Marc Gasol's bearded face is one of the first things you see at FedEx Forum, the image gracing banners, T-shirts and posters around the Grizzlies' home court.

The afterthought has become a headliner, vindicating a franchise widely questioned at the time of the February 2008 trade that gave the Lakers, with Pau Gasol, the power forward who would help them win two championships.

"They got what they wanted and we got something," Marc Gasol said Thursday. "I think it worked out for both teams. Everyone's pretty happy."

Most of the smiley faces these days belong to the Grizzlies, who have reached the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history thanks in large part to a giant who has become one of the NBA's top centers.

The San Antonio Spurs have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Saturday at FedEx Forum.

Gasol pushed and prodded the Grizzlies to series comebacks in the first two rounds of the playoffs. His postseason averages of 17.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks are all higher than the numbers he posted in the regular season.

Awards season continued Thursday for Gasol, who added second-team All-NBA honors to a resume that already included defensive player of the year.

The days of being a little brother with upside have long since ended.

"I should be proud of him, what he's been able to do throughout his career," Pau said last month. "This year, just to gain another step forward and getting defensive player of the year. He's just playing at a very high level."

While Marc was not widely known in NBA circles when the Grizzlies acquired him, he was a familiar name in Memphis.

He moved to the city before Pau's rookie NBA season in 2001 to play his final two seasons of high school basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School, where he cut a curious figure as a 300-pounder who liked to spot up for three-pointers and run the court.

"He was a really good shooter and because we oftentimes would overwhelm opponents in the interior, we would allow him to play on the perimeter some," said Jason Peters, who coached him at Lausanne.

The player known as "The Big Burrito" took his game to the land of tapas after graduation, turning down an offer to walk on at Memphis to play in Spain, the Gasols' native country, for the club team FC Barcelona — a move he thought would accelerate his development.

The Lakers drafted him in the middle of the second round in 2007 but he never played a game for them. He doesn't have any regrets.

"I would not be the player that I am today if I didn't play in Memphis," Marc said. "I've matured with this team. I've grown up."

He has become one of the game's premier defenders because of traits that go well beyond a body that has been winnowed to 265 muscular pounds.

"He's really long and really strong and he doesn't have to jump as much as Dwight Howard to bother players defensively," San Antonio forward Boris Diaw said. "He's always in the right spots and has good position."

Marc became an All-Star for the first time in 2012, in his fourth NBA season. At 28, he is four years younger than Pau but identical in his preference for heady passes that lead to easy baskets for teammates.

"He's so unselfish that it rubs off on guys to make another play for another person and not just be out there just for yourself," Memphis guard Mike Conley said.

Marc will be here for years to come. Signed through the 2014-15 season, he intends to keep delivering for the Grizzlies long after they first made him a postscript.

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